Jeff Corey was born Arthur Zwerling in Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Mary (née Peskin), a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Nathan Zwerling, an Austrian Jewish immigrant. He attended the Feagin School of Dramatic Art and took part in the New York Federal Theatre Project. He worked with Jules Dassin, Elia Kazan, John Randolph and other politically liberal theatrical personalities. Although he attended some meetings of the Communist Party, Corey never joined. A World War II veteran, Corey served in the United States Navy. His memoir, "Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act" which he wrote with his daughter, Emily Corey, is published by the University Press of Kentucky. His longtime friend and former student, Leonard Nimoy, wrote the foreword for the book.
Corey moved to Hollywood in 1940 and became a highly respected character actor. One of his film roles was in Superman and the Mole Men (1951), which was later edited to a two-part episode of the television series The Adventures of Superman, retitled "The Unknown People". His portrayal of a xenophobic vigilante coincidentally reflected what was about to happen to him. Prior to that, Corey appeared in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, (1943) as one of the men who discover the body of the vagrant Freddy Jolly.
Corey's career was halted in the early 1950s, when he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Corey refused to give names of alleged Communists and subversives in the entertainment industry and went so far as to ridicule the panel by offering critiques of the testimony of the previous witnesses. This behavior led to his being blacklisted for 12 years. "Most of us were retired Reds. We had left it, at least I had, years before," Corey told Patrick McGilligan, the co-author of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (ISBN 978-0-312-17046-2), who also teaches film at Marquette University. "The only issue was, did you want to just give them their token names so you could continue your career, or not? I had no impulse to defend a political point of view that no longer interested me particularly ... They just wanted two new names so they could hand out more subpoenas."
During his blacklisting Corey drew upon his experience in various actors' workshops (including the Actors' Lab, which he helped establish) by seeking work as an acting teacher. He soon became one of the most influential teachers in Hollywood. His students, at various times, included Robert Blake, James Coburn, Richard Chamberlain, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Michael Forest, James Hong, Sally Kellerman, Shirley Knight, Penny Marshall, Jack Nicholson, Darrell M. Smith, Diane Varsi, Sharon Tate, Rita Moreno, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Forrest, Anthony Perkins, Rob Reiner, Robert Towne, Barbra Streisand and Robin Williams.
In 1962, Corey began working in films again, and remained active into the 1990s. He played Hoban in The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Tom Chaney the principal villain in True Grit (1969) and was Sheriff Bledsoe in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also 1969) who warned Butch and Sundance that no good would come of their breaking the law. In Seconds (1966), a science fiction drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson, Corey with Will Geer and John Randolph played wealthy executives who opt to restart their lives with a new identity, an ironic parallel to the real life of Corey and the other principal actors (excepting Hudson) who had also been proscribed from Hollywood films during the "Blacklist" years of the 1950s.
Corey played a police detective in the psychological thriller The Premonition (1976) and he reprised the role of sheriff Bledsoe in the prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979). He also played Wild Bill Hickok in Little Big Man (1970). Corey directed some of the screen tests for Superman (1978), which can be seen in the DVD extras, and played Lex Luthor in several try-outs.
Corey made guest appearances on many television series. Corey appeared as murder victim Carl Bascom in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound" (1964). He featured on science fiction series too, including an episode of The Outer Limits ("O.B.I.T.", 1963) in which he played Byron Lomax; Star Trek: The Original Series ("The Cloud Minders", 1969) in which he played High Advisor Plasus; as Caspay in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Babylon 5 ("Z'ha'dum", 1996) in which he played Justin.
He was also the voice of the villain Silvermane (in elderly form) in Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994). He also appeared in the short-lived Paper Moon (1974), a comedy about a father and his presumed daughter roaming through the American Midwest during the Great Depression based on the film. Corey had a memorable role in a third-season episode of Night Court (1986) as a burned-out judge who had lost his grip on reality.
He played Dr. Miles Talmadge on Night Gallery season one episode one, "The Dead Man", on December 16, 1970. Corey detailed his television work on Rod Serling's Night Gallery in an interview in February 1973 aboard the SS Universe Campus of Chapman College. He was proudest of this work, for which he received an Emmy nomination.
Corey died on August 16, 2002, aged 88, from complications from a fall. Later, a memorial service was held at Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, held by family and friends.The Outer Limits – season one, episode seven – "O.B.I.T." – Byron Lomax (1963)
The Wild Wild West – two episodes:
"The Night of a Thousand Eyes" – Captain Ansel Coffin (1965)
"The Night of the Underground Terror" – Colonel Tacitus Mosely (1968)
Bonanza – two episodes:
Season eight, episode 13 – "The Bridegroom" – Tuck Dowling (1966)
Season 12, episode 15 – "A Single Pilgrim" – Frank Brennan (1971)
Star Trek: The Original Series – season three, episode 21 – "The Cloud Minders" – Plasus (1969)
Hawaii Five-O – two episodes:
"King of the Hill" – Doctor William Hanson (1969)
"Highest Castle, Deepest Grave" – Duncan (1971)
Gunsmoke – episode – "The Night Riders" – Judge Procter (1969)
Night Gallery – episode – "The Dead Man" – Dr. Miles Talmadge (1970)
Mannix – episode – "Overkill" – Paul Sorenson (1971)
Alias Smith and Jones – two episodes (1972):
"The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg" (Director)
"The Day the Amnesty Came Through" – Governor George W. Baxter
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color – episode – "The High Flying Spy: Part 1" – Gen. McClellan (1972)
Police Story – episode – "The Big Walk" – Defense Attorney (1973)
Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law – episode – "Poor Children of Eve" – Monsignor Morell (1973)
The Bob Newhart Show – episode – "Old Man Rivers" – Doctor Scott Rivers (1973)
The Six Million Dollar Man – episode – "Lost Love" – Orin Thatcher (1975)
Starsky and Hutch – episode – "Death Ride" – Andrew Mello (1975)
Kojak – episode – "A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves" – Frank Raynor (1975)
McCloud – episode – "Our Man in the Harem" – Sheik Kipal (1976)
The Bionic Woman – episode – "The Night Demon" – Thomas Bearclaw (1977)
Testimony of Two Men - William Simpson (1977)
Greatest Heroes of the Bible – episode – "David & Goliath" – Saul (1978)
Fantasy Island – episode – "Let the Goodtimes Roll/Nightmare/The Tiger" – Tibur (uncredited) (1978)
Barney Miller – two episodes:
"The Prisoner" – Ralph Timmons (1978)
"The Desk" – Caleb Webber (1979)
Little House on the Prairie – two episodes:
"Barn Burner" – Judge Parker (1979)
"Blind Justice" – Edgar Mills (1981)
Night Court – two episodes:
"Santa Goes Downtown" – Santa (1984)
"The Night Off" – Judge Hirsch (1986)
Simon & Simon – episode – "Slither" – Police Sgt. Spencer (1985)
The A-Team – episode – "Family Reunion" – A.J. Bancroft (1986)
Perfect Strangers – episode – "Taking Stock" – Henry Casselman (1987)
Jake and the Fatman – episode – "It All Depends on You" – Judge Ralph Colella (1989)
Beauty and the Beast – episode – "The Reckoning" – Winston Burke (1990)
Picket Fences – episode – "This Little Piggy" – The Captain (1995)
The Marshal – season one, episode seven – "The Bounty Hunter" – Alex Cooper (1995)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series – two seasons, five episodes – voice of Elderly Silvermane (1995–1997):
Season two (Neogenic Nightmare)
"Chapter 1: The Insidious Six"
"Chapter 2: Battle of the Insidious Six"
"Chapter 11: Tablet of Time"
"Chapter 12: Ravages of Time"
Season four (Partners in Danger)
"Chapter 5: Partners"
Babylon 5 – season three (Point of No Return), episode 22 – "Z'ha'dum" – Justin (1996)
The Adventures of Philip Marlowe – radio series – Lieutenant Ebarra ("various times" (1948–1951))
Inside Magoo – animated short – voice of Doctor (1960)
Alias Smith and Jones – director – episodes – "The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and "The Day the Amnesty Came Through" (1972)